Lonely In London: ‘Fake’ world of social media only makes you feel like you don’t fit in, says young mayor

Friday, 5th August — By Anna Lamche

Rosie Kurnaz

Rosie Kurnaz says a ‘couple of swipes [on socialed mia] turn into hundreds of swipes’

YOUNG people are lonelier than ever in the wake of covid, as the cost-of-living crisis bites and social media interactions replace physical intimacy, Islington’s Young Mayor has warned.

Rosie Kurnaz, who turns 18 today (Friday), describes a perfect storm of circumstances that have combined to leave young people feeling increasingly isolated.

A Prince’s Trust survey conducted this year found 35 percent of people aged 16-25 say they have never felt more alone.

It is only in recent years that young people have been identified as a “lonely” demographic, after a 2015 BBC survey of 55,000 people found young people experience loneliness on a similar scale to that experienced by the elderly.

This trend Ms Kurnaz attributes partly to the pandemic, which began when she was in year 11.

The country was in lockdown as Ms Kurnaz began sixth form, with all lessons taking place online.

“It was really difficult making friends at first – I didn’t get to interact with anyone on a face-to-face basis,” she said. While new students set up group chats in attempt to get to know each other, they didn’t meet properly until six months later.

“It was a bit awkward. How am I meant to feel a sense of community? How am I meant to make friendships when I don’t even see people’s faces?” she said.

For many, long hours spent on social media during the lockdowns compounded feelings of loneliness.

“Social media is so fake. You only see one percent of someone’s life,” she said.

“[People think]: why can’t I be like them? Why don’t I have as many friends as them, or as much money? Of course that’s going to push you to feel more lonely.”

She said conversations on social media are not a match for real-life interactions.

“Compared to a few decades ago, young people are going out less and interacting physically less with other people,” she said.

But Ms Kurnaz said social media can also be used productively to “be proactive and form connections.”

She tries to avoid “spirals” where “a couple of swipes turn into hundreds of swipes.”

The cost-of-living crisis also has a role to play in feelings of isolation, Ms Kurnaz said. “For young people from low-income backgrounds, it’s really difficult to justify spending £20 at bowling or £10-£15 on going to the cinema,” she said.

She said there’s also pressure on young people to “have the best and latest of everything.”

As luxury items like phones, shoes and clothes become increasingly unattainable, Ms Kurnaz said “more young people are scared to socialise because they feel there’s a chance they will get bullied.”

Despite these barriers, Ms Kurnaz encourages young people to get out of the house. “Nothing beats a single ice cream in the park with a friend. I feel like talking is better than so many things.”

But just getting out of the house is not a cure-all for loneliness, Ms Kurnaz said. “What’s most important is what the person feels psychologically – if someone’s a shy person, what makes you think a cheap cinema ticket will make them feel less lonely?” she said.

She said compared to other parts of the country, Islington is a good place to grow up, with lots of free activities on offer, from bike maintenance classes to free trips to the Almeida theatre.

“In London, I guess there’s a better sense of community because it’s the capital, it gets funding and recognition.

“However I feel like the more you go out of London, you’re going to find places where there’s less resources,” she said.

For Ms Kurnaz, the road to tackling isolation and loneliness among young people involves encouraging physical interaction, offering a raft of free activities, and building a “sense of community and belonging.”

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